A wonderful blog to kick off 2021, from TLC Mentee, and NHS worker Rose McGinty. Rose wrote this blog at the end of last year, after her experience working with TLC Mentor and Associate Editor, Anna South.
When I signed up to the TLC mentoring programme in November 2019 I’d spent two years struggling with that notorious tricky second novel and was at the point of ditching it, despite the niggling feeling that there was still a story worth telling. The joy of writing had fled, leaving life as grey as the winter sky.
I sat down to my first submission in January knowing it would be a challenge, not only because I was going to have to spend the year with the novel I never wanted to see again, but also because I have a demanding job in the NHS, developing mental health services in London. I was nervous, as my mentor, Anna South, had promised to not hold back and to push me as a writer. What if I didn’t have the ability or energy to rise to the challenge and instead fell on my face? But the very fact that Anna had agreed to spend her year with my story was such a privilege and gave me the hope that mentoring would restore the pleasure of writing and some colour to life.
Little did I know, as I hit send, that I was about to be locked down with that wretched novel for the best part of the year. The next day the news came of the deadly virus in Wuhan. Worse of all, my novel, Malignant things, is set in a hospital in crisis, where nurse Susie Owen has to kill to save her patients. If I hadn’t wanted to spend any more time with my novel before, I certainly didn’t now. Life and art were more than imitating each other, they had merged into one desperate nightmare.
By the time of the second submission in March my life was consumed with sourcing scrubs. But I also had my first report back from Anna. I opened the email warily, knowing my emotional resilience, which had to be so high at work, was in free-fall after hours. I was dreading that her critique would mean days more at my laptop when all I wanted to do was sleep. As I read the report, my worst fears were confirmed, I wasn’t going to spending my lockdown beneath the duvet. Anna had picked out threads in my story I hadn’t realised were there. But rather than making me want to cry at the loss of precious hours catnapping, her insights energised me. My characters started surprising me again and I couldn’t wait to spend time in their company- and at least I didn’t have to Zoom with them.
The experience was repeated with my next submission. This time Anna had me focusing on humour, which soon spread from the page to daily life, and helped me to find something to smile at every day, like the neighbour who put a sign on their wheelie bin saying ‘2020, the year my bin went out more than me!’
By my third submission, I’d realised that this process had become vital in sustaining me throughout the trauma of the pandemic. Not just Anna’s kind emails, un-stinting encouragement and belief, at a time when it was so hard to believe in anything, let alone your writing, but Anna was pulling out strengths in my story that applied equally in life. So far she had taught me to find the story beneath the surface, to let my humour unfurl – next was to trust my instincts. In the years before when I’d been wrestling with my novel, time and again I’d changed something because of feedback from well intentioned friends, beta readers, agents and editorial advisors. Deep down it hadn’t sat well with me, but I didn’t want to spurn advice. Uncannily, it seemed at first, each of these changes Anna zoned in on, leaving me kicking myself for not making a success of the change. Until I realised she was showing me I should have listened to my instincts and stayed with my original idea, character or words. I’d lost the ability to hear my voice in the din of all these other ones. Anna guided me to listen closely to authentic expertise, evidence and motivations. A life lesson never more relevant as fake news swirled throughout the year. Those ideas, characters and words just needed releasing from the rock, like a diamond. This was the absolute joy of Anna’s mentoring approach. She never seeks to smash the rock to smithereens, but always to make your writing shine.
Despite this year being one like no other, one where the dark winter sky cast its shadows long, the TLC mentoring process and collaborating with Anna, has brought me so much more than my original hope that I would find joy in my writing again, and some colour in my life. Rainbows cut through the darkness everywhere in 2020, and not least for me as, through Anna, I found my voice, and wisdom and strength that applies as much to life in a pandemic as to writing. I can’t thank TLC and Anna enough – my lockdown novel has been my lifeline.
Read more about TLC’s Chapter & Verse Mentoring Scheme here.